An open letter to Elon Musk:
Dear Mr. Musk:
You may have noticed on Twitter and Facebook that I have been critical of your efforts to solve Tesla's myriad manufacturing problems related to the Model 3. To my eyes, you appear impulsive, reluctant to seek experienced counsel and are spread too thin with your other endeavors to really drill down into the details and fix Tesla's manufacturing and quality problems.
I don't want Tesla to fail. In fact, no one I know is openly rooting for Tesla to run out of money, fire staff and close the doors. The automotive media I interact with generally agree that Tesla has been good for the auto industry.
But setting up a factory line in a tent strips Tesla of something it desperately needs: credibility. Making steel-bodied cars is not rocket science, which of course, you know about because your company SpaceX launches rockets. In Detroit, automakers and suppliers stamp large numbers of steel body panels every day -- and have for more than a century.
So I have a suggestion: I want you to come to Detroit and hold a three-day job fair for retired senior manufacturing executives. Detroit is chock-full of manufacturing engineers with decades of experience who know how to set up a properly staffed plant designed for high-quality mass production. Offer them a lucrative three- to six-month contract to go to the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. They'll look at your manufacturing equipment, plant design and production process, and they'll fix what you have or design a system that will produce high-quality welded steel bodies in high volume.
And while that is happening, another group of Detroit executives can scrutinize the Model 3's myriad fit and finish problems and find a solution.
I know you are reluctant to have too many close ties to Detroit, believing they would shatter Tesla's image as an auto industry outsider. But that's all a public smokescreen. Those of us in Detroit who report on the auto industry know that Tesla relies on many of the same suppliers of tools, parts and technology as virtually every other global automaker. I don't think a closer connection with Detroit would harm Tesla's exclusivity. In fact, if you look at the quality of Detroit's cars these days, they rarely suffer from design, manufacturing and fit and finish defects. If Tesla's build quality were as good as those of the Detroit 3, many of your problems would be solved.
I rode in a Model 3 recently, and it's clear you have the bones of a really compelling car there. But the highway is littered with the corpses of companies whose good ideas were poorly executed. Now is the time to turn Tesla into a world-class design, engineering and manufacturing company. The competition from Jaguar, Audi, Porsche and others are objects in your rearview mirror that are larger than they appear.